Inhumane treatment of Muslim prisoners cause for worry in Uzbekistan
by Cihangir Yıldırım
ISTANBULJan 12, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Cihangir Yıldırım
Jan 12, 2016 12:00 am
The Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders (IGHRD) said that at least 12,800 people have been imprisoned since 2002 in Uzbekistan on trumped-up charges with many facing torture. Thousands of Muslims in Uzbekistan have been imprisoned for alleged "religious extremism" in part of a government crackdown on peaceful Muslims who practice their faith outside of government-approved mosques, the IGHRD 2015 annual report revealed.
According to the IGHRD report, at least 300 Muslims have been arrested and convicted for "religious extremism" in 2015 alone. Most of those jailed are abused, tortured, and have their prison terms extended for the slightest violation of prison rules, the human rights group says. The actual number could be much higher because victims' families fear contacting human rights groups or independent reporters. Also, in 2014, 150 religious Uzbeks, including 14 women, were sentenced to jail on charges related to extremism or anti-constitutional activity. At least 23 people were tortured to death in prison in 2014.
Surat Ikramov, the founder and chairman of IGHRD, said that in some prisons, jailed Muslims are prohibited from praying and reading the holy Quran and forced to sing the national anthem of Uzbekistan. "The report is based on thousands of documents, interviews with families and former inmates collected since 2002," Ikramov said.
Islom Karimov, a former communist official who is known for his repressive and dictatorial policies, tolerates no political opposition and crackdown on civil and human rights groups and independent media. A conviction triggers a string of arrests, interrogations, and further convictions of family members, neighbors, friends and business partners. Suspected Muslims are routinely extradited or kidnapped by Uzbek security agents from Russia and other ex-Soviet states, even though some had changed their citizenship and asked for asylum, rights group says.
The Uzbek government views various Islamic movements as a serious threat. On May 13, 2005, Uzbekistan's security forces shot dead hundreds of unarmed protestors demonstrating for better economic opportunities and political freedom in the eastern city of Andijan, the informal capital of the fertile and overpopulated Ferghana Valley, an area of early Islamic influence in Central Asia. Uzbek security forces fired machine guns into the crowd above the square without warning. Surrounded, protesters were unable to escape and troops blocked off the square and opened fire, killing and wounding unarmed civilians en masse. According to some estimates, as many as 1,500 people were killed in the Andijan Massacre. The government has announced the official death toll as 187, although authorities refused to allow an independent investigation. Uzbek President Islam Karimov's main political opponent Muhammed Solih, who ran against him in the 1991 election and now lives in Turkey, said, "The bodies were buried in mass graves holding 15 to 20 people each, or were thrown into the Karasu River after the Andijan Massacre. The Chinese and Russian governments' support for the Uzbek government allowed it to avoid an international investigation. Organizers of the Andijan rally should have contacted me and other exiled Uzbek opposition leaders to work out a unified plan against Karimov's government." One of the reporters of the Forum 18, a human rights organization based in Norway, was detained and deported by the authorities at Tashkent airport in August 2005.
The massacre in Andijan initially attracted widespread international condemnation. The U.N., EU, U.S., the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO condemned the response by Uzbek security forces and called for an independent international investigation into the events, demanding unhindered access. After the Uzbek government adamantly rejected these calls and refused to cooperate with the international community, the EU imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, including an EU-wide visa ban for high-ranking officials "directly responsible for the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in Andijan" and an embargo on arms exports to the country.
After the 2005 revolt against Karimov's iron-fisted rule, crackdowns on Muslims continue unabated. Muslim Uzbeks convicted of anti-government activity are regularly tortured and often die in Uzbek jails. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Uzbek prison authorities routinely beat prisoners and use electric shocks, asphyxiation and sexual humiliation to extract information and confessions. Muslim prisoners have been tortured for praying, HRW said in its 2014 report. According to another forensic report by the British Embassy, two prisoners were boiled to death. Karimov, who has been in power for 26 years, was re-elected in March, 2015, in an uncontested presidential election. The regime's clampdown on Muslims – considered radical, opposition figures and businessmen – makes Uzbekistan one of the world's most repressive countries. In 2015, Uzbekistan was included in Freedom House's "The Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive Societies." The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and HRW asked the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva to continue monitoring human rights in Uzbekistan, but the U.N. council is considering ending their observation.
The U.N. Committee against Torture has said that torture is carried out "systematically" by law enforcement officers in Uzbekistan's police stations, prisons and detention facilities run by the National Security Services (SNB). And yet, despite abuses, the U.S. and EU countries seem to have a blind spot when it comes to Uzbekistan. In October 2009, the EU embargo was lifted without mention of the lack of an investigation into Andijan. Security, political and military interests are placed ahead of implementing meaningful action to pressure this strategically important country to respect human rights.